In part one of this blog post, we looked at how important it is for firms to uncover and articulate the 10% that’s distinctive vs. their  competitors. With this in mind, we now look at how this thinking can lay the right foundations for action that counts – in this context, putting together successful pitches.

What do clients really think about law firm pitches?

 

Overall, they’re not impressed. They think they're unfocused, generic and filled with irrelevant content and clichéd marketing speak. All law firms sound the same. They even sound the same when they’re claiming to be different, both with the general messages they give and the specific language they use.

We recently surveyed in-house lawyers and procurement specialists on their views of law firm pitches. These are just a few of the highlights:

  • When asked how distinctive they find the claims law firms make about how they're different, nearly 75% of respondents gave a score of 3 or lower on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest possible score. No-one gave a score higher than 6. The average response from both the in-house legal and procurement community and was just 3.
  • When asked how distinctive they find the language that law firms use in their pitches, over 90% of respondents gave a score of 5 or lower. Almost 80% gave a score of 3 or lower. Again the average response was just 3.
  • At their worst, the only thing that distinguishes one firm from another is their logo and branding. 75% of respondents would find it difficult to identify a law firm from their bid document if their name and branding was removed.

It’s clear law firms still have a long way to go to make their pitches more distinctive and, as a consequence, more persuasive.

Four things clients would like to see more of (in their own words):

  1. Specific applicability to my business
  2. Answering the questions they were asked rather than the questions they wish they were asked
  3. Using their experience to give me a solution
  4. Succinctness

Four things clients would like to see less of (in their own words):

  1. Boilerplate responses
  2. Lots of marketing stuff that’s irrelevant to the tender
  3. Long CV style experience notes
  4. Previous triumphs for other clients

Risk and opportunity - getting the result you want

 

Law firms clearly have much work to do to improve the quality of their pitches and make them more persuasive. However, the prize for doing so is significant. How likely is it that law firms would improve their chances of winning more work if their pitches were more distinctive? The average response to this question from both in-house lawyers and procurement experts was 7, revealing two things.

First, if law firms make their pitches more distinctive, they’re highly likely to reap the benefits. Second, the procurement community is just as convinced of this as their in-house legal peers. Perhaps they’re not as solely focused on cost as everyone thinks.

Five features all great pitches share:

  1. They’re short
  2. They're about the client, not the firm
  3. They focus on the impact the firm will have
  4. You can’t see the boilerplate
  5. They read as if they’re written by one person

What words and phrases do you wish law firms would stop using (in their own words)?

  1. Commercial
  2. Strategic
  3. We understand your business - when they patently don’t

What’s the big IDEA?

 

IDEA is a simple model to help get the structure of pitch content right. It can be applied to the whole pitch, individual sections or specific questions.

  1. Impact
    What impact will you have on the client and their business? Will you help them to reduce risk, improve their efficiency or enter a new market? Will you save them time or money or make their life easier? Lead with the outcomes that you’ll deliver — because this is what the client’s most interested in.
  2. Delivery
    Having established what you’ll deliver, explain how you’ll deliver it. What tools and processes will you use? Who will be on the team? What role will they play? This is when to talk about things like extranets and online systems, project plans, client service standards and key performance indicators.
  3. Evidence
    The client needs to trust that you can deliver what you say you will, so evidence is crucial. Case studies need to relate directly to examples of when you’ve delivered a similar impact for similar clients. Other evidence might be awards, testimonials, rankings or data and information that you’ve collected.
  4. Advocates
    Following steps one, two and three you will want to provide some referees. Rather than thinking of them just as referees though, think of them as advocates. Who’ll be the strongest advocates of your suitability for this particular bid? Who’s been in a similar position to this client and can vouch most strongly for you in this situation? They’re the referees to pick.

The 10 point checklist below will help make your pitches as distinctive and persuasive as possible:

  1. Take out the clichés
    Make a list of your personal ‘lazy words’. Read the whole bid, replacing or removing your chosen clichés.
  2. Shorten it…
    Actively read every sentence. Does it add to or convey your chosen message? If not, take it out.
  3. …and make it easy for the reader.
    Set yourself some limits - number of words in a sentence or lines in a paragraph. Edit your document to stick to your limits.
  4. Remember your IDEA.
    Check every question against the IDEA model. Mark I(mpact), D(elivery), E(xperience) and A(dvocates) in the margin, and check each answer has all four.
  5. Use case studies properly
    Take out any experience padding. Read each example given and ask if it’s specifically relevant to the client. Does it show that your chosen delivery method delivers the desired impact? If not, take it out.
  6. Tailor CVs
    Check each CV carefully. Does it clearly state the person’s role and show evidence of performing a similar role before? If not, amend it. If you can’t, question why they’re there and / or take them out.
  7. Be clear with financials
    Did your pricing change halfway through the process? If so, check it still supports your strategy. Have you fudged any part your pricing or assumptions or said that you’re ‘happy to discuss’? Clarify - clients can spot woolliness.
  8. Make sure your value-adds actually add value
    State your client’s perception of value in one sentence - do your offerings meet that desire? Do they work for you? If you win, can you actually deliver what you’ve promised?
  9. Pick referees carefully
    Are your chosen referees relevant or just your usual ones? Have they had a similar experience to the client to whom you’re bidding? If not, find a better one. Even better, tell the client why you’ve chosen that referee. Have you briefed the referee? If not, brief them.
  10. Get feedback
    Get agreement now from the team about how feedback will be obtained - and stick to the plan.

It’s clear from what clients have said that distinctiveness is in short supply when it comes to law firm pitches. However, it’s also clear what firms need to do to stand out. More than that, the prize on offer to firms making their pitches more distinctive and persuasive is large.

The most successful firms will be those that have done the underlying work described in part one of this post, who have a consistent and relevant story to tell about their purpose, what they stand for and their market proposition. Without that their pitches will always be hampered. But uncover and articulate how you’re distinctive, and it will become easier to communicate it persuasively through your pitches and other marketing materials. The only question is - how much effort are you willing to invest to win the work that will follow?

* This is an abridged version of the full report ‘Think. Feel. Do. Making law firm pitches more persuasive’, which includes full details of the research and findings.

Lee Grunnell can be contacted at: [email protected]

Click here to see part one of this blog post.

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